Should animals be kept in captivity? This question has been heavily debated for decades. The events that occurred at SeaWorld Orlando, most recently in 2010, and the subsequent release of the condemning documentary Blackfish in 2013 have brought to light the treatment of wild animals in captivity and whether or not it is an ethical practice. This is not an issue that can be settled with a simple yes or no. I have studied zoology from childhood and have visited many zoos in my lifetime. I also had the honor of volunteering at Flamingo Gardens Wildlife Sanctuary in Cooper City, Florida. I have a reasonable amount of insight on the issue, enough to give my input and the opinions I passionately stand by.
I have considered both sides of the argument and have valid reasons for supporting both. An increasing number of species are on the verge extinction, and sometimes the only way to ensure their survival is to institute captive breeding programs. They are monitored and given prenatal and medical care to ensure healthy offspring that can be later reintroduced back into the wild population. Rehabilitation programs can take ill or injured animals and nurse them back to health so that they may also be reintroduced to the wild. The zoo where I volunteered rehabilitated various birds of prey, big cats and other native Florida species. Their keepers deeply cared for the animals’ welfare and had a resident veterinarian who specialized in exotic animals. However, there are instances where their injuries or illnesses make it impossible for the animals to return to the wild and survive, so it is a common practice to keep them in captivity for the duration of their lives.
However, I feel there are certain species that should never be held in captivity unless they are candidates for breeding programs or rehabilitation. It is not humane to keep large mammals like orcas, dolphins or elephants in zoos or theme parks. These are highly intelligent animals with complex social constructs that scientists have studied for decades and still have yet to fully understand. Captive wild animals should not be used for entertainment. Unfortunately, using animals in a theatrical manner is what brings in the crowds and subsequently the profits. While some theme parks may try to incorporate education into the equation in order to justify running these shows, using these majestic animals for laughs and gasps is disrespectful and abusive. Children should learn to appreciate how these animals behave in the wild as opposed to how they can do tricks for rewards. The general public should not be taught that these animals are mere jesters. They are intelligent entities who play crucial parts in the world’s ecosystem.
It is impossible to tell what animasl are thinking or how they truly feel. Keeping them in captivity can harm just as much as it can help. It is our responsibility as the dominant species to determine the consequences of our actions.